Those looking for new entertainment options downtown could soon see new venues under a new alcohol ordinance that would abandon regulations prohibiting new bars from opening.
The new ordinance will replace Madison’s current Alcohol License Density Ordinance, which officials expect will provide businesses in the downtown area with more flexibility and opportunities to expand.
Madison Alcohol Policy Coordinator Mark Woulf said the city’s current alcohol ordinance, established in October of 2007, prohibits new bars from entering any part of the downtown area, spanning from Blair Street to Park Street between the two lakes.
Woulf said under the current ordinance, a bar is defined as any establishment with more than 50 percent of sale revenue coming from alcohol sales. He said the new proposal will lift the restrictions on certain parts of downtown that prohibit new bars from opening.
The new proposal would still prevent bars from opening on the 500 and 600 blocks of State Street, the 400 block of Frances Street and the 600 block of University Avenue, he added.
Mary Carbine, executive director of Madison Business Improvement District, said the new proposal uses zoning lines to divide up the downtown area, so different sections can be more easily targeted for development.
Carbine said the proposed ordinance is a way for the city to manage alcohol licenses in businesses downtown, which will provide more flexibility for different establishments.
“The implication for this is we are trying to attract concepts that offer something else other than just alcohol, so that if they are offering any sort of significant food service or entertainment concept, they will be able to be considered for a liquor license that they would not be able to in the current ordinance,” Woulf said.
Carbine said she hopes this will allow for a “multi-flex” business environment in the downtown area. She said other large cities have venues that serve multiple purposes, ranging from screenings to dining to live entertainment.
According to Carbine, the new ordinance should be a positive change for the city. Still, she said there are some issues to be worked out, including how to grandfather existing businesses into the new plan or provide new business owners downtown with the same opportunities as previous owners.
Woulf said he hopes the ordinance will bring diversity to Madison’s entertainment scene.
“The best part of this is we have potential to attract a different kind of entertainment venues and that is something severely lacking in the downtown,” he said.
Carbine said if plans go as expected the new ordinance should be put in place on July 1.